Dendoncker sinks Villa to boost Wolves’ Euro bid

Wolverhampton Raul Jimenez and Aston Villa’s Kortney Hause, right, during their match in Birmingham on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2020

Dendoncker sinks Villa to boost Wolves’ Euro bid

  • Wolves have yet to concede a goal following the coronavirus hiatus

BIRMINGHAM: Wolves stepped up their bid to qualify for the Champions League as Leander Dendoncker sealed a 1-0 win at Aston Villa that lifted them into 5th place in the Premier League on Saturday.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s side made it three successive victories since the Premier League restart thanks to Dendoncker’s clinical finish in the second half.

Wolves have yet to concede a goal following the coronavirus hiatus and are now just 2 points behind 4th-placed Chelsea and three ahead of 6th-placed Manchester United.

Both Chelsea and United have a game in hand on Wolves due to their FA Cup involvement this weekend.

But with 5th place potentially offering Champions League qualification if second placed Manchester City’s European ban is upheld, Nuno’s men are firmly in contention to play in the continent’s elite club competition for the first time in 60 years.

Wolves are unbeaten in eight league games and have won three successive top-flight away matches for the first time since 1980.

In contrast, their struggling midlands rivals Villa are without a win in 8th league games and remain rooted in the relegation zone on goal difference.

Second bottom Villa have now played a game more than the teams around them and have just six matches left.

With fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester United up next, Dean Smith’s team are in serious danger of an immediate return to the Championship.

Smith had complained about the fixture schedule that saw his team playing for the fourth time in 11 days.

His fears were confirmed when defender Matt Targett limped off with a leg injury after 10 minutes.

Wolves were on top and Joao Moutinho’s free kick was flicked goalward by Raul Jimenez, but Orjan Nyland was well placed to save.

Matt Doherty led another threatening Wolves raid, the wing-back bursting into the Villa area to shoot into the side-netting.

Villa captain Jack Grealish was being deployed in a central midfield role rather than his usual wider position and he tested Rui Patricio with a low strike from the edge of the area.

Nyland had got away with a horrendous mistake in Villa’s first game of the Premier League restart when he carried the ball into his own net against Sheffield United, only for Hawk-Eye to fail to award the goal.

Luck was on Nyland’s side again when he threw the ball straight to Diogo Jota late in the first half, but the Wolves forward shot hurriedly over the bar with just the blundering keeper to beat.

Douglas Luiz was narrowly off target from long-range as Villa tried to change the momentum in the second half.

But Nuno sent on Adama Traore after the break and the electric winger immediately made an impact.

Dancing through the Villa midfield, Traore found Jimenez and his raking pass reached Jonny, who teed up Dendoncker on the edge of the area.

Unleashing a perfectly-placed low drive, the Belgian midfielder beat Nyland in style for his fifth goal of the season.

Kortney Hause headed wide from Grealish’s free-kick, but Villa lacked the cutting edge to salvage a point.


F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

Updated 06 July 2020

F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

  • Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge

DUBAI: Formula 1 is back. And, for the majority of the season’s much delayed first race, it looked business as usual.

Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge.

But this, despite Bottas’  eventual victory, would prove anything but an ordinary race, for so many reasons.

The Austrian Grand Prix, the first race of the shortened season, was, like all top class sporting events around the world, taking place with no fans inside the Red Bull Ring, a legacy of the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The empty stands may have given this the initial look of a practice session, but the race would prove anything but routine.

This was a dramatic, often chaotic, return to action for Formula 1’s finest.

No doubt, the absence of motorsports’ most passionate and colorful fans, who in normal circumstances would have descended on Spielberg, Austria, were missed.

But for those watching on television, the truth is that the intensity of Formula1 action, unlike in football, and perhaps other team sports when they resume, is not overly affected by taking place behind closed doors.

 And it is something that the public will no doubt quickly adapt to. For now, only seven other rounds of the 2020 season have been confirmed; in Austria again (Red Bull Ring, July 10-12), will be followed by the Hungarian Grand Prix (July 17-19), two British Grand Prix races (Silverstone, July 31-Aug. 2 and Aug. 7-9); the Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona, Aug. 14-16); Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps, 28-30); and the Italian Grand Prix (Monza, Sept. 4-6).

Other races are pending, and fans in the Middle East will be hoping that the restart continues to go according to plan, hopefully leading to the confirmation of the Bahrain Grand Prix later this year, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as the season’s finale.

Before the race the drivers had worn anti-racism T-shirts, though there was an element of controversy when several drivers, including Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc chose not to take the knee like their  rivals. Both explained  their stance on their social media accounts.

The early stages as expected were dominated by Mercedes and Red Bull, with Bottas and  Hamilton separated in first and fourth by Verstappen and Alexander Albon in 2nd and third.

After the reigning champion Hamilton overtook Albon in the early stages, one of the race’s turning points saw Verstappen retire after gear failure. With fewer points on offer this season, this could turn out to be a decisive incident, even at this early stage.

Bottas and Hamilton, now in first and second, seemed to have the race under control for Mercedes.

Lap 28 saw the safety car come out, but when the green light came back on Bottas streaked away followed by Hamilton with Albon in third and British driver Lando Norris, excelling in a McLaren, in fourth.

Within seconds from the restart, Vettel’s Ferrari spun as he attempted to overtake Carlos Sainz, and though he avoided an accident, it meant he dropped to 15th.

Less than half way through the race, the Austrian Grand Prix was providing more drama and incidents than millions glued to their televisions could have dared hope for.

The race now settled into a battle between Bottas and Hamilton, and even another intervention of the safety car after 52 laps could not put them out of their stride.

Kimi Raikkonen’s exit with 15 laps meant seven drivers had retired.

 But with with five laps left, Hamilton was penalized five seconds for an accident with Albon. Suddenly second place, for long seemingly a lock for Mercedes, was now up for grabs. Indeed, so was third.

Hamilton, to ensure a podium finish needed to beat Norris (in fourth) by more than five seconds. But Norris saved his best till last, his fastest lap ensuring the gap between him and the champion was sub-five seconds.

Bottas was the first winner of the season, second place went to Leclerc and Ferrari, and a disbelieving Norris and McLaren team in third.

Hamilton, in the blink of an eye, dropped to fourth.

The podium presentation no doubt lacked its usual celebratory vibe, but try telling that to Leclerc and Norris who could not have dreamed of this conclusion.

 If the remainder of the 2020 races live up to this astionishing Austrian Grand Prix, Formula 1’s shortest season could turn out to be one of its best.